Debunking Myths of the Common Core

Development Process and Adoption

Myth: The standards tell teachers what to teach.
Fact: The Common Core State Standards define what students need to know; they do not define what teachers should teach or how students should learn. The best understanding of what works in the classroom comes from the teachers who are in them. The standards will actually help preserve freedom for curriculum choice. These decisions are left to each state, and local teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards will continue to make important decisions about curriculum and how their school systems operate.

Myth: The standards will be implemented through NCLB—signifying the federal government will be leading them.
Fact: The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort that is not part of No Child Left Behind, and adoption of the standards is in no way mandatory. States began the work to create clear, consistent standards before the Recovery Act or the Elementary and Secondary Education Act blueprints were released because this work is being driven by the needs of the states, not the federal government.

Myth: These standards amount to a national curriculum for our schools.
Fact: The Common Core State Standards are not a national mandate or a national curriculum. They are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed. Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others will decide how the standards are to be met. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms. States voluntarily chose whether or not to adopt the standards and retain full authority for implementation, preventing the possibility of a federal takeover. State leaders, accountable to their constituents, can withdraw their states from the standards at any time.

Myth: The standards will cost more by requiring states to spend on training, tests, etc.
Fact: The Common Core State Standards make economic sense. Improving the quality of education delivered in American classrooms through higher standards has the potential to lessen the next generation’s reliance on our ever-expanding entitlement and corrections programs. Higher standards will prepare our future workforce for the global economy, strengthening our nation’s competitiveness. They will also save taxpayer money by reducing the need for costly remediation in college. The cost of current tests that are not aligned to college- and career-ready standards is high. Reducing those costs will make money available for better tests.

Myth: The standards are an intrusion on student privacy rights and will allow student data to be inappropriately tracked.
Fact: As part of broader education reform efforts, states have adopted data systems that allow educators and parents to measure the progress of student achievement and growth from year to year. Regardless of adopting the Common Core, states remain in control of their students’ private information, just as they are now. The federal government does not have access to individual student-level data—just aggregate information by school on how kids are performing, a result of No Child Left Behind’s focus on accountability. States must remain vigilant in working with local school districts to continue protecting student information.

Myth: The federal government will take over ownership of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
Fact: The federal government will not govern the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The initiative was and will remain a state-led effort.

Myth: The federal government made states adopt the standards by threatening to withhold federal education dollars.
Fact: The federal government provided incentives through the optional Race to the Top program for states to adopt bold education reforms, including college- and career-ready standards and teacher evaluation systems, but each state voluntarily made the decision to adopt the Common Core and followed its own specific constitutional, legislative or administrative processes to do so. A state’s decision to adopt these standards played a very minor role in the Race to the Top competitive scoring process (making up just 8 percent of an individual state’s score under the federal application).

Quality and Content: General

Myth: Adopting common standards will bring all states’ standards down to the lowest common denominator, which means states with high standards, such as Massachusetts, will be taking a step backward if they adopt the Common Core State Standards.
Fact: The standards are designed to build upon the most advanced current thinking about preparing all students for success in college and their careers. This will result in moving even the best state standards to the next level. In fact, since this work began, there has been an explicit agreement that no state would lower its standards. A study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, showed that Common Core State Standards are superior to standards currently in use in 39 states in math and 37 states in English. For 33 states, the new standards are superior in both math and reading. The shared standards will increase accountability by providing transparent data that allows for true comparisons across state lines. Additionally, an analysis by ACT found that three-fourths of young men and women entering college “were not adequately prepared academically for first year college courses.” Therefore, current standards are not effectively preparing our students to be college- and career-ready.

Myth: The standards are not internationally benchmarked.
Fact: International benchmarking played a significant role in the development of the standards. In fact, the college- and career-ready standards include an appendix listing the evidence that was consulted in drafting the standards, and the international data consulted in the benchmarking process is included in this appendix. More evidence from international sources is presented together with the final draft.

Myth: The standards include controversial science curriculum content.
Fact: Contrary to purported myths about the Common Core, these standards encompass only English language arts and mathematics, focusing on improving needed critical-thinking and analytic skills. State and local officials will continue to make important curriculum decisions when it comes to teaching history or specific issues such as evolution and “intelligent design,” in line with what is right for their students and communities.

Quality and Content: English Language Arts

Myth: The standards suggest teaching The Grapes of Wrath to second-graders.
Fact: The English language arts standards suggest The Grapes of Wrath as a text that would be appropriate for ninth- or 10th-grade readers. Evidence shows that the complexity of texts students are reading today does not match what is demanded in college and the workplace, creating a gap between what high school students can do and what they need to be able to do. The Common Core State Standards create a staircase of increasing text complexity, so that students are expected to both develop their skills and apply them to more and more complex texts.

Myth: The standards are just vague descriptions of skills; they don’t include a reading list or any other similar reference to content.
Fact: The standards do include sample texts that demonstrate the level of text complexity appropriate for the grade level and compatible with the learning demands set out in the standards. The exemplars of high-quality texts at each grade level provide a rich set of possibilities and have been very well received. This gives teachers the flexibility to make their own decisions about what texts to use—while providing an excellent reference point when selecting their texts.

Myth: English teachers will be asked to teach science and social studies reading materials.
Fact: With the Common Core English language arts standards, English teachers will still teach their students literature as well as literary nonfiction. However, because college and career readiness overwhelmingly focuses on complex texts outside of literature, these standards also ensure students are being prepared to read, write and research across the curriculum, including in history and science. These goals can be achieved by ensuring that teachers in other disciplines are also focusing on reading and writing to build knowledge within their subject areas.

Myth: The readings assigned in the English standards are 50 percent “informational” texts instead of great literature and classics. The result is that the Common Core standards are very political.
Fact: Common Core State Standards continue to provide a heavy focus—at least 50 percent—on the reading and comprehension of great literature classics, such as The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird and Pride and Prejudice.

Students will be required to read more “informational” texts, which means reading original works, but which texts are read is left up to the teacher—just as it is today. Examples of informational texts are: Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, President Ronald Reagan’s address to students at Moscow State University, and the Declaration of Independence. Other examples of informational texts are maps, charts, graphs and infographics.

The increased focus on information and original texts is to prepare students for college and real-world reading and writing requirements. For example, 80 percent of the reading and writing done in the workplace requires workers to read material, analyze the material using critical-thinking skills, and articulately write or verbally respond to the material.

Quality and Content: Math

Myth: The standards do not prepare or require students to learn algebra in the eighth grade, as many states’ current standards do.
Fact: The standards do accommodate and prepare students for Algebra 1 in eighth grade, by including the prerequisites for this course in grades K‐7. Students who master the K‐7 material will be able to take Algebra 1 in eighth grade. At the same time, other grade 8 standards are also included; these include rigorous algebra and will transition students effectively into a full Algebra 1 course.

Myth: Key math topics are missing or appear in the wrong grade.
Fact: The mathematical progressions presented in the Common Core are coherent and based on evidence.

Part of the problem with having 50 different sets of state standards is that, today, different states cover different topics at different grade levels. Coming to a consensus guarantees that in any given state, some topics will have to be moved up or down in the grade-level sequence. This is unavoidable. What is important to keep in mind is that the progression in the Common Core State Standards is mathematically coherent and leads to college and career readiness at an internationally competitive level.

Myth: The standards only include skills and do not address the importance of content knowledge in math.
Fact: In mathematics, the standards lay a solid foundation in whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and decimals. Taken together, these elements support a student’s ability to learn and apply more-demanding math concepts and procedures. The middle school and high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real-world issues and challenges; they prepare students to think and reason mathematically. The standards set a rigorous definition of college and career readiness, not by piling topic upon topic, but by demanding that students develop a depth of understanding and ability to apply mathematics to novel situations, as college students and employees regularly do.

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